Indians dominate proceedings

IN India, there are players who have toiled very hard to become International Masters. There are those who have worked for decades but still have not realised their dream. But blessed are those who do well in just one tournament against familiar opposition and get the coveted title.

IN India, there are players who have toiled very hard to become International Masters. There are those who have worked for decades but still have not realised their dream. But blessed are those who do well in just one tournament against familiar opposition and get the coveted title.

P. Magesh Chandran went about his job in an impressive manner to clinch the title. — Pic. RAJEEV BHATT-

That is precisely what is happening in the Asian junior chess championship where the rules allow a `short cut' to the IM title, once regarded a huge achievement.

The FIDE rules allow even players tied for the top spot to get the IM title while the eventual champion gets a bonus nine-game Grandmaster-norm. More than any other country, India has made the most of it, in recent times. Tejas Bakre, Deepan Chakkravarthy, S. Satyapragyan and now S. Poobesh Anand and Prathamesh Mokal have all followed this path, which leads to an IM title in a hurry.

The girls, too, are having a great time in this India-dominated championship. M. Kasturi, Tania Sachdev and now Y. Pratibha are all among those who have gained Woman IM titles plus a nine-game WGM-norm by beating a field comprising majority of Indians. The FIDE awards these IM or WIM titles without rating considerations, thereby allowing the players to escape the agony of picking up not only the norms over the stipulated number of games but also the required rating.

Continuing the trend of an Indian monopoly, International Master P. Magesh Chandran, Poobesh Anand and Prathamesh Mokal filled the medal-bracket, in that order in the boys' section just like Y. Pratibha, J. E. Kavitha and Saheli Nath did among the girls. Hardly a surprising outcome considering the strength of the Indians in an otherwise poor field.

Quite rightly, the only two unbeaten players in their respective sections, Magesh and Pratibha, walked away with honours.

In a field of 34 boys, nine of the top 11 seeds as well as those in the eventual standings were Indians. Similarly in the girls' section, which attracted 28 participants, 11 of the first 13 seeds were Indians, who went on to capture 10 of the top 11 spots. Not surprisingly, the majority of entries in both the sections came from the host, Sri Lanka. But at one stage there seemed a danger of the host entries being outnumbered by those from India.

If there was any threat to India monopolising the medals, it was removed midway through the competition.

Vietnam's top seed Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son was held by Akshayraj Kore, Magesh, Deepan and Poobesh between rounds three and six before Mokal moved into medal contention by inflicting a timely defeat on the experienced campaigner.

In fact, Nguyen had a chance to `tie' for the top spot had he beaten Kazakh Olzahs Khamzim in the final round. Nguyen lost, well aware that even a victory would have still kept him out of the medal-bracket since Magesh, Poobesh and Prathamesh enjoyed superior progressive scores. The Vietnamese had to settle for the fifth spot, which he shared with Khamzim and National sub-junior champion S. Arun Prasad.

But it was the manner in which Magesh went about his job that was particularly impressive. An expected win over 20th seed Mohammad Ali was followed by another against Abhijeet Gupta, the 13-year-old, who had beaten him on way to the National junior title last year.

Draws with Poobesh, Nguyen and Khamzim kept Magesh at the crowded top before he accelerated by ending unheralded Iranian Syed Arash Akbarnia's unbeaten run in the sixth round. As it turned out, Arash went on to lose the next four rounds as well. Magesh then removed third seed G. Rohit from the way before inflicting on holder Deepan Chakkravarthy his only defeat.

Having moved within striking distance of the title, Magesh knew he had to remain undefeated in the remaining three rounds to take the title on superior progressive count. Eventually, Magesh did just that by drawing with Mokal, S. Arun Prasad and Deep Sengupta.

What really mattered for Magesh was the GM-norm that came with the title. The cash incentive from the Union Government for being the Asian junior champion will only be a bonus.

Another Madurai-boy, Poobesh, too, made his charge in the second half of the tournament. Till he drew with Nguyen in the sixth round to reach four points, Poobesh had really not looked like more than justifying his seventh seeding. Having drawn with Magesh in the third round and losing to Deep in the fourth, Poobesh could not afford to drop any more points. He began his recovery by beating Arash and then scoring over Akshayraj Kore and Abhijeet Gupta to reach seven points from nine rounds. He drew with Mokal and Deepan to grab the second spot. Poobesh had a progressive score of 49, as against Mokal's 47.5.

Poobesh Anand came back strongly in the second half of the tournament to finish runner-up. — Pic. Ch. VIJAYA BHASKAR-

Poobesh rose into prominence last year. He won the National under-18 title, finished second best to P. Harikrishna in the Asian under-18 championship and signed off the year with an IM-norm in the World junior championship at Panaji. Lack of financial support has held back this talented lad from playing in more tournaments. One hopes this runner-up finish and the IM title will help him find the much-needed corporate support in the near future.

Mokal, like Poobesh, had not done as expected in the National junior championship. But this Pune-lad had shown tremendous promise on way to qualifying for the National `A' last year. Mokal was always going to be a tough customer at this level and he proved it by gradually making his way up. Losses to Arash in the third round and Abhijeet Gupta in the fifth had certainly pushed Mokal back but he accounted for three overseas rivals, including Nguyen and Khamzim. Draws with Magesh and Poobesh left Mokal needing a win in the final round to join his two teammates on eight points.

Perhaps, what turned out to be the most rewarding match of his career, Mokal stopped National sub-junior champion S. Arun Prasad and tied for the top spot to collect the IM title.

For Deepan, the loss to Magesh in the crucial eighth round proved costly. Till then, three wins followed by four draws had placed him comfortably. Though Deepan scored 2.5 points from the remaining three rounds, he had to settle for the fourth spot with 7.5 points.

But the biggest disappointment from India's point of view was Rohit. Enjoying the third seeding with a stupendous rating of 2397, Rohit was expected to finish among the medal winners but losses to Kore, Magesh and Nguyen left him well short of his target. With talent and time on his side, Rohit can always return to this championship to collect the IM title and the GM-norm that comes with it.

Much was expected from the former World under-12 gold medallist Deep Sengupta but he faltered after losing to Abhijeet and Arun in succession before the penultimate round. In fact, both Rohit and Deep had gained IM-norms in the Commonwealth championship this year.

Like Rohit and Deep, Bhilwara-boy Abhijeet, too, had reasons to feel dejected. Abhijeet, despite losing the second round to Magesh, kept his hopes alive by reaching six points after eight rounds. But successive defeats to Poobesh and Nguyen stalled his progress. In the final round, there was little consolation for Abhijeet and Rohit as they faced each other and settled for a draw.

Prathamesh Mokal accounted for three overseas players but had to be content with the third spot because of an inferior progressive score. — Pic. RAJEEV BHATT-

Among the also-rans, the most notable performance came from Arun. Notwithstanding defeats to Nguyen and Rohit, followed by a draw against Avaka Fernando of Sri Lanka in the fifth, Prasad almost made it to the medal-bracket. He picked up the pieces between the fifth and eighth rounds at the expense of far less-rated players and scored his first big win, over Deep, in the ninth round. A draw with Magesh in the penultimate round helped him reach seven points. But Arun's dream recovery ended when he ran into a more determined Mokal in the final round.

In the girls' section, too, an Indian sweep looked imminent from the very beginning.

Though Harika, who gained a GM-norm in the Commonwealth championship in Mumbai this summer, failed to live up to the expectations, just like the second seed and holder Tania Sachdev, it was third seed Pratibha, who seized the opportunity to strike.

Pratibha, runner-up to Harika in the Asian under-18 championship last year at Bikaner, could not have chosen a better time to come good. A second-round victory over Mahima Rajmohan was followed by a draw with Tania before back-to-back victories over Harika and Kruttika Nadig made her a potential medal-winner by the fifth round itself. A draw with Vietnam's fifth seed Luong Phong Hanh kept her on course before successive victories over Saheli Nath, J. Rajasuriya and Mary Ann Gomes paved the way for a well deserving title-triumph. In the last two rounds against J. E. Kavitha and N. Vinuthna, Pratibha did not have to work too hard to gain draws.

A one-point cushion over her nearest challenger, despite draws in the last two rounds, reflected Pratibha's dominance.

While Pratibha's moment of glory was seldom in doubt after the half-way stage of the competition, it was Kavitha's meteoric rise that took everyone by surprise. The gain of just 2.5 points from the first five rounds had put Kavitha nearly out of sight of the front-runners. But Kavitha, born a day before Pratibha in January 1984, grew in stature as she collected 5.5 points from the last six rounds.

Y. Pratibha had an easy time in the girls' section. — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

Kavitha, winner of four National age-group titles, apart from retaining the National under-18, needed a performance like this to get back her confidence. Victories over Tania, Saheli and Mahima should help Kavitha replace her fast diminishing self-belief with unshakeable optimism.

Saheli was the other surprise of this championship. A student of Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan in Kolkata, Saheli made a mark with the National under-9 and under-14 titles apart from winning the Asian under-12 crown. Recently, a mere four points helped Saheli claim the under-14 title in the Commonwealth championship.

But much more than those, Saheli's performance in this championship was noteworthy. Notwithstanding the losses to Tania, Pratibha and Kavitha, Saheli made her way through seven victories. Among those who fell to the ninth seeded Saheli were Nilavoli, Mahima, Luong and citymate Mary Ann Gomes.

A last-round draw with J. Rajasuriya, sister of Deepan, had cleared Saheli's path to the medal-bracket. But spare a thought for Rajasuriya. Winner of the Asian (under-14) title at Kozhikode recently, Rajasuriya was not really expected to go too far in the competition but she stopped many in their tracks.

Six victories, including those against Kavitha and Kruttika and draws with Tania and Mary, proved that Rajasuriya has it in her to take on the far more experienced names. She tied with Saheli and eventually finished a creditable fourth, leaving several fancied players to settle for lesser placings.

J. E. Kavitha regained her confidence with a consistent show and finished second. — Pic. V. GANESAN-

Kruttika, who created a flutter by beating Harika in the third round, lost her lead once she surrendered to Pratibha in the fifth. Draws with Tania and Mary did not help her cause much. Towards the end, the defeat at the hands of Rajasuriya in the 10th round dashed her medal hopes.

The only girl to prevent an Indian top-10 finish was Vietnam's Luong Phong Hanh. The fifth seed, after beating Vinuthna and Mary in the second and third rounds, never again beat another Indian. After she drew with Kruttika, Tania and Pratibha in succession, the trio of Rajasuriya, Saheli and Nilavoli delivered crushing blows to put her out of the medal-hunt. She finally settled for the sixth spot after beating Sri Lankan players in the last two rounds.

Mary Ann Gomes, looking to improve upon her bronze-winning performance in the last edition of the championship, never really got into top gear. Her only victory over an Indian came in the final round, against Nilavoli. Draws with Rajasuriya, Kavitha and Kruttika were not enough for Mary to join the medal-hunt at any stage. Overall, it was a forgettable outing for this highly emotional girl from Kolkata.

Harika and Tania disappointed in this championship. Back-to-back losses to Kruttika and Pratibha, besides the sixth-round shock from Filipino girl Kathryn Ann Cruz left Harika with just three points. Harika's hopes of a recovery were dashed by Mahima and Vinuthna who held her to draws. Thereafter, victories over two Sri Lankan rivals and a last-round draw with Tania could only help Harika finish a poor ninth.

Defending champion Tania's plight was even worse. The second seeded Delhi girl, who missed a possible medal in the World junior championship recently, played far below her potential. Over the years, Tania seems to have developed a knack of drawing games after raising hopes of a victory. Though Tania does not lose many games, she does not win too many either. It is high time Tania believed more in her coach's advice and not stick to her own pre-conceived notions. Just three victories, six draws and two losses were certainly not in keeping with the amount of time Tania devotes at the chessboard.

Saheli Nath tied for the third place, leaving several fancied players to settle for lesser placings. — Pics. RAMESH KURUP-

Eighth seed Mahima Rajmohan did one better than her seeding. Though Mahima lost to each of the eventual medal-winners, she should be happy from the fact that she drew with Harika and Kruttika apart from scoring over Tania.

Vinuthna, the former National sub-junior champion, never really recovered from three losses in five games. In the last four rounds, Vinuthna had the satisfaction of drawing with Harika and Tania before beating Nilavoli and signing a friendly draw with Pratibha.

In contrast, seventh seed Nilavoli slipped after gaining four points from the first six rounds. After drawing with Tania in the seventh round, Nilavoli lost three of the last four rounds to teammates Kruttika, Vinuthna and Mary and finished a distant 14th.

J. Rajasurya tied for the fourth place, leaving several fancied players to settle for lesser placings.-

Overall, this championship again proved that the standard of Indian players, in this sort of field, is just too good for the rest in the region. Gaining IM or WIM titles and GM or WGM norms is all fine but it must be remembered that such overwhelming domination gives an inflated picture of India's actual playing strength. India's real strength in the age-group competition gets tested only at the world level. In the midst of the world's best, India is still some distance away from calling the shots.

Final standings (Indians unless stated):

Boys: 1-3. P. Magesh Chandran, S. Poobesh Anand and Prathamesh Mokal (8 points each); 4. Deepan Chakkravarthy (7.5), 5-7. Nguyen Ngoc Truong Son (Vie), Olzhas Khamzim (Kaz) and S. Arun Prasad (7 each); 8-11. Akshayraj Kore, Abhijeet Gupta, Deep Sengupta and G. Rohit (6.5) each.

Girls: 1. Y. Pratibha (9 points), 2. J. E. Kavitha (8), 3-4. Saheli Nath and J. Rajasurya (7.5 each); 5. Kruttika Nadig (7); 6-10. Luong Phong Hanh (Vie), Mahima Rajmohan, Mary Ann Gomes, Dronavalli Harika and N. Vinuthna (6.5 each).